When he arrived in Milwaukee for his next start, Stone's thoughts were of another magical combination of meal and mound. "The Brewers had just swept the Yankees to move into third place, and we were on national TV," he said, sniffing the bouquet of the Cabernet. "Before the game I had liver dumpling soup, oven-browned potatoes and sauerbraten at Karl Ratzsch's, a great German restaurant right around the corner. Then I went out and threw a one-hitter and retired 19 in a row to win 2-1."
Does Stone really believe that the margin of victory was the liver dumpling soup? "Who knows the limits of man's powers?" he said, looking mysterious in the flickering glow of a chafing dish. "But I'll only give you two guesses as to where and what I ate before last night's win."
In deference to holding firm at 175 pounds, Stone limits himself to one big caloric splurge per city. In Detroit, for example, he favors the London Chop House: "Old World elegance at pre-re-cession prices." In Minneapolis it's the Normandy Inn: "The popovers and the beer-cheese soup with popcorn are a must." In Anaheim it's Charley Brown's: "Average food, average atmosphere, but, oh, what women!" In Kansas City it's Stephenson's: "From the apple daiquiris to the hickory-smoked meats, a treat not to be missed." And in Cleveland it's Dorothy's: "Veal paprika and the best matzoh-ball soup this side of Tel Aviv." In this case, Dorothy also happens to be Steve's mother. "The cuisine at Dorothy's may not be exactly haute" he says, "but I love the prices."
Thanks to his mother, Stone was all but born to play baseball. One hot July night in 1947 she insisted on accompanying her husband to an Indians game, even though she was due to deliver her first child at any moment. "She figured that if I was born in the stands, Bill Veeck, who owned the Indians then, would give her a lifetime pass," says Stone, who held out for a more antiseptic hospital delivery three days later.
Fueled by Dorothy's home cooking, Steven Michael grew skilled enough at tennis to win several local junior titles and at golf to score a hole-in-one at the age of 11. At Kent State, where he got a teaching degree in history and government, he starred on the volleyball and bowling teams and took on all comers at table tennis and pool—for a price. Thurman Munson, the late Yankee catcher, was his collegiate battery mate and prize pigeon. "Thurman fancied himself a pool shark," says Stone, "and I was careful never to disillusion him, especially when I was in the process of beating him 25 matches in a row."
Signed by the San Francisco Giants in 1969, Stone was sent to their Fresno farm club, where he quite literally labored in the vineyards. He recalls, "All the wineries in the area had tasting rooms, and on the days we weren't pitching, another pitcher, Bill Frost, and I would sip our way across the Napa Valley, taking notes and learning all we could about wine making."
In 1971 Stone left Frost behind with the promise that they would one day run their own restaurant, and joined the Giants in spring training. His first assignment was to pitch batting practice, and his first major league hitter was Willie Mays. A 95-mph fireballer who had averaged one strikeout an inning in the minors, Stone reasoned that "with 22 other pitchers around, I had to impress the organization right away. So I started blowing the ball in. Mays missed a few. fouled some off and then said to the catcher, 'Who is this guy? Tell him to just throw the ball in.' " The catcher complied, but Stone didn't. "Willie stayed in for one more pitch, thrown right under his chin, then threw down his bat and never took batting practice against me again that spring."
But say hey! When the Giants broke camp, Stone was in the starting rotation. "They billed me as 'another Sandy Koufax,' " he says, "primarily because I was Jewish. I can say honestly and unequivocally that I'm the best righthanded Jewish pitcher to come into the majors in the past 20 years, mainly because I don't know of any others."
Troubled by a sore arm, Stone was traded to the White Sox in 1972 and then uptown to the Cubs the following season. Along the way he lost some of his smoke and realized that "the only way I was going to fool anybody throwing 85 miles per hour was to learn how to pitch more intelligently." Reading Koufax' autobiography five times convinced him "just how mental this game really is. Why, you can actually will yourself to win"—or, as a hedge, develop an outside interest. In 1974, Stone hedged by joining up with Richard Melman, a Chicago restaurateur who was expanding his operation. "He offered me a choice of being a silent partner or a working partner," says Stone. "I told him with the way I had been pitching, I'd better be a working partner."
With additional investors, he and Melman expanded a company called Lettuce Entertain You, so that it now includes a chain of eight restaurants with similarly cutesy names, e.g., Lawrence of Oregano and Jonathan Livingston Seafood. Stone's job titles were much more mundane; he worked as a waiter, bartender, bookkeeper and maître d'. "Lots of ballplayers have invested money in restaurants and lost their shirts because they didn't learn the business," he explains, "and I was determined that wasn't going to happen to me."